Exercise for Children

Kids are eager for instant gratification.  A favorite candy bar tastes great right now.  One last story before bedtime right now.  A new toy from the supermarket.  Right now.

Exercise is something most American children need more of but it’s almost impossible to sell them on the value of exercise as a means of instant gratification.  After all, the only instant returns on an exercise session are fatigue, sore muscles, and a lot of perspiration.

The gratification may come sooner than later, however, when regular exercise becomes a part o a child’s life at an early age.  A team of researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC) monitored 400 children from the time they were just entering school until they became teenagers.  The researchers claim their research proves early childhood exercise makes for a healthier teenager.

In the UNC study, all children were enrolled while attending grade school.  Their aerobic fitness and activity levels were assessed and each child was weighed, measured, body mass index (BMI) calculated.  Blood pressure and cholesterol levels were recorded.

Seven years later, the entire regimen of tests and measurements was done again.  Researchers were astounded by the findings.

The children with the most inactive, or sedentary, lifestyles were at significantly greater risk for developing metabolic syndrome.  Metabolic syndrome has long been considered a disease of overweight, middle-aged people at high risk for developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Children getting the lowest level of exercise, identified in the study as fewer than 20 minutes of daily exercise, were at significantly higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome than their schoolmates who exercised more.  The inactive lifestyle during early childhood raised the risk of disease during the teen years by five or six times.

Close to 5% of the sedentary children had already developed at least three of the risk factors associated with metabolic disorder.  Those risk factors include:

  • Obesity.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Low levels of the good (HDL) cholesterol.
  • Glucose intolerance.
  • Elevated triglyceride levels.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends children of every age enjoy at least one hour of exercise, at a moderate rate of intensity, every day for optimum health during childhood and beyond.